Academic Ableism

Led by Ph.D. student Dana Ernst (M.A. in Oral History, Columbia University) and Project Manager Siffat Kohli, the Academic Ableism in Higher Education project began in 2021. Ms. Ernst is a David P. Gardner Fellow at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and her research is also supported by the UCLA Initiative for the Study of Hate. We are collaborating across the UCs, including with Disabled Student Unions and coalitions, Disability Cultural Centers, and other communities/spaces within and outside the university.

Despite it being over thirty years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is clear that federal and state legal frameworks and university diversity, equity, and inclusion policies have failed to provide meaningful access and inclusion for disabled students in academic research spaces and careers. 

This project aims to address the serious lacunae in research on: 1.) inequality in higher education as it is experienced by disabled students in both undergraduate and graduate programs, and 2.) effective and meaningful ways to truly provide greater access, inclusion, retention, and success for disabled and/or chronically ill students.

At present, the retention rate is approximately 50% or less.The Academic Ableism in Higher Education research employs mixed methods, including surveys, qualitative interviews, and multimodal narrative methods.

We listen to and take seriously the experiences of disabled and/or chronically ill students across the disciplines with the goal of providing meaningful insights to disabled students for disabled students, to document their struggles and successes, and ultimately, to authoritatively inform and recommend to policy-makers effective ways to meaningfully increase access and inclusion in higher education.

We do not require any kind of medical documentation in identifying anyone as disabled and/or chronically ill. Our research holds at its core the principle of centering the voices of disabled undergraduate, graduate, Ph.D. students, and faculty/staff.

Please reach out to us if you would like to collaborate, share data, or tell your story at